Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chain mail and the changing times

[Armored soldier/horse at French National Army Museum - Paris]

Mail, or maille, or chain mail refers to a kind of body armor comprised of metal links or rings chained together. It has been used in different parts of the world as a protective covering for various parts of the body for almost 2,000 years.

The Hotel des Invalides, just south of the Seine, across from the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge in Paris, was begun under Louis XIV in 1671 and completed in 1674, its purpose being to serve as a veteran's home for soldiers who fought in Louis' wars. It has housed thousands of veterans (including soldiers who fought for Napoleon) over the years, and there are still a few veterans who make it their home.

Much of the Invalides today, however, is comprised of the French National Army Museum. It contains "some of the most spectacular examples of arms, armor and art of 500 years of warfare."

When I visited there a couple of years ago, I was fascinated by the numerous examples of body armor, not only for humans, but for the horses the humans rode. That makes good sense, of course, for if you are in a battle and your horse goes down, you become extremely vulnerable.

In this museum, you will find many different types of mail, or maille, or chain mail, all designed to protect a soldier from projectiles intended to cause mortal wounds.


Soldiers in our U.S. armed forces still use a variety of body armor to increase their chances of avoiding becoming a battlefield statistic. While materials and styles have changed, the basic purpose of body armor has not.

But body armor isn't only for the military these days. A few months ago, Time magazine discussed a new kind of body armor available to those who have the resources to pay for it. The rich, the powerful, and celebrities are often targets for the deranged. Many spend fortunes on security. These are the people who have become customers of Miguel Caballero, who designs bulletproof fashions which allow the high and mighty to "maintain their security without sacrificing style."

Caballero began selling his fashions at Harrods in London. "His new collection includes blazers, raincoats and suede jackets, some replete with a comforting stab-proof lining. Customers get to select from three levels of ballistic protection. For instance, a polo shirt that can withstand a slug from a 9-mm revolver costs roughly $7,500; a version for about $9,800 protects wearers from automatic weapons, including mini-Uzis."

The company is doing very well, and Caballero is now selling in 16 countries. His clients include King Abdullah of Jordan, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and the action actor, Stephen Segal.


No doubt Caballero is doing his customers a great service. It is sad, however, to think that over thousands of years, the human race has made such minimal strides in learning how to live in peace with one another. Two thousand years after mail or maille or chain mail came on the scene, we're still wearing it, although in a different and more comfortable and more effective form.

Chain mail has changed with the times.

And it does not protect, of course, against a head shot. Bang! You're dead!

1 comment:

Bob Poris said...

How nice to know that civilians can buy such armor. In talking to Marines that had served in Iraq, I was told that some did not get the promised vests for years and that some lacked the inserts needed. They also spoke of the unarmored vehicles that cost so many lives.

I think Obama does owe an investigation into what took so long. Those, and their families, that died, due to the lack of armor should see those were responsible are punished! It is shameful that hired civilians serving in that area did have armor and armored vehicles.

That is not for political payback. It must never happen again but it will if not looked into.

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